The Florida Gators Can Salvage the Season by Embracing "The U"

Jay HendryCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2009

"The U" is an ESPN 30 for 30 film detailing the 1983–1994 run of the Miami Hurricanes football program.  It isn't the end–all sports movie, but it's really good.  If you are even remotely interested in college football you should watch it or DVR it.

It's been nine days since the Florida Gators' season came to a screeching halt. Alabama smacked Superman around to the tune of 32–13 and sent the 12–1 Gators to the Allstate Consolation Bowl, a.k.a the Sugar Bowl.

Suddenly the season that was supposed to cement the dynasty doesn't mean that much anymore. Who cares if you're not playing in the BCS game, right?


As disappointing as the Sugar Bowl feels, it's still the freakin' Sugar Bowl. The Gators are a top-five team with potential to be top three after the final game. This would give the Gators their fifth top-10 finish of the decade.  A win also guarantees that four of those five finishes were inside of the top five.

Dynasty preserved, somewhat. Unfortunately, the Sugar Bowl has not been labeled "sweet."

The Bearcats' strength was offensive mastermind, Brian Kelly. Instead of drawing up dynamic packages for the No. 6 scoring offense in football, he's cleaning eggs off of his house and getting ready to recruit for the Irish.

The Gators' strength is in their defense. Although defensve coordinator, Charlie Strong, will coach the Sugar Bowl, nobody can fault him if he's spread a little thin while trying to do everything Brian Kelly's doing (except for the whole...walking out on his current team thing).

That's without even getting into the hangover effect both teams are feeling after missing the title game. There's a lot of reasons for a letdown here.

However, don't write off January 1 right away. There's the potential for something far more interesting than a double letdown (you know, outside of the possibility that both teams just go ahead and play a good game).  

The Gators could channel a team 300 miles South and let the college football world know that, at the very least, they'll never go away quietly into the night. 

I'm talking, of course, about the University of Miami, or "The U."

Maybe, just maybe, one of the Gators' players or coaches thought to record ESPN's documentary, "The U," instead of spending the night out drinking and passing out at intersections (I'm not bitter).

For those who missed the movie/don't know about The U (how is that possible?), here's a quick synopsis: from 1983–1994 the University of Miami won four national championships, possibly eased racial tensions, and changed college football forever. 

Before you go running off to the comments section, I don't think the Gators need to bridge any racial gaps—2009 Gainesville isn't exactly 1980s Miami.

I also don't find the Gators progressive enough to cause a fundamental shift in recruiting, game rules, or anything else that is credited to "The U."

Finally, I certainly hope that the Gators don't hook up with a soon–to–outdated rap group like 2 Live Crew (funny how "offensive" they were, now they're just goofy).

None of that stuff is useful for more than a good story. However, there is one thing that The U had that Florida can utilize—swagger. 

Take away the celebrations, the camo, the arrests, and all of the extra–curriculars that caught The U so much flak, and you're left with the heart of why they were so good. 

The Canes' players knew that they were the best. That oozing confidence, which eventually became known simply as "swagger," showed itself in many ways. Yes, sometimes it was stupid (wearing fatigues, 200-plus penalty yards in the Cotton Bowl).

However, often it resulted in the other thing Miami was known for—blowing teams out. If swagger shows its ugly head in the form of excessive celebrations and tomfoolery, then it puts on its best suit and bags Miss America when the team goes into eff–you mode.

The eff–you doesn't have to come from a loss. Coaches try to find "bulletin board" material to throw their team into eff–you mode all the time. The truly great teams channel that eff–you into a unified rallying cry, turning each game into the worst game of their opponent's lives.

The 2008 Gators had that swagger. Following Ole Miss, nobody challenged the Gators until the SEC championship. Actually, that's selling the Gators short. Following the Ole Miss loss, the Gators laid down one of the worst eight-game beatdowns in football history. 

Nobody was beating that team, and only Alabama got close (alright, Oklahoma got close too, but Bama was more dangerous). Blemished record be damned, that team is one of the top-five teams of the last 20 years.

How did they go from good team to full eff–you mode? The team rallied around the premise that they were slighted, and they took the Ole Miss loss personally. Tebow personified that rallying cry with a speech and made the whole thing tangible.

For The U, there were all kinds of rallying sparks. They used racial tensions, losses, and in one case a live tiger as a reason to band together and crush unsuspecting foes. 

When it happened, it happened big. There were a lot of top-10 teams getting beatdown by Miami during the '80s and early '90s.

The problem is, eventually, a team has to find something new to motivate them. Even Miami's dynasty, the swagger masters, couldn't win them all. What they did do was channel their rage from those rare losses into the rest of the season.

Even though the Canes didn't repeat as champions in any season, they kept their momentum rolling. 

In 1987, they went undefeated, and in 1988 they lost in the Catholics vs. Convicts game and didn't get a chance for revenge against the Irish. Instead of sulking about their bad fortune, the Canes went out and slaughtered Nebraska 26–3 in the Orange Bowl.

In 1989, the Canes returned to the top spot in college football. In 1990, they had two letdown games killing their title hopes by Week Six. Once again, they went into full eff–you mode for the bowl game putting the worst bowl beatdown ever on the No. 3 Texas Longhorns.

That game went beyond normal eff–you and into a frustrated murderous rage that saw the Hurricanes rack up over 200 penalty yards. Despite the total disregard for the rules, the U waxed the Horns 46–3. 

Think about that for a second, they were so pissed off that they gave the Horns two football fields' worth of extra yards and still only gave up a field goal (by the way, that game also created excessive celebration penalties).

In 1991, the Canes captured their fourth AP title; they didn't repeat in 1992 either. So for six years the Canes failed to defend a title, but they never finished lower than third.

Sure, rankings weren't as cutthroat as they are now, but the 1980s and 1990s weren't exactly the Dark Ages of college football. We're talking about the modern era here. 

For six years The U was the scariest team in America, not because they were the blackest (as Sports Illustrated would have you believe), but because they took their losses personally and used it to fuel their swagger.

The University of Florida needs to channel The U rather than channelling 2008 Alabama.  Guys, beat the hell out of the Bearcats. Make them wish they never showed up. 

Urban, let the media call you out for running up the score. Let them tell you how you're ruining college football. If that's the case, it's been ruined for 27 years. 

Revel in Cincinnati's misery. For one game, don't just be the bad guys, be the baddest. I don't want a dirty game, but I do want a messy one for Cincinnati.

I want deep passes in the fourth quarter just because the Bearcats can't stop them. Mostly, I want the Gators to prove that they deserved that No. 1 ranking all season. 

I want them to prove that the Bama game was just a letdown; that the Tide woke up the sleeping giant; and that next year is going to be hell for everyone on the Gators' schedule.

For one game this season, recapture that swagger that Miami created and Florida emulated so perfectly last year. Who knows? Maybe that's the spark the 2010 team needs.


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